A Fox producer realized they might have a hit movie on their hands, when he noticed that, during test screenings, audience members would walk backwards when they needed to go to the bathroom, so they would miss as little as possible.
Jan de Bont insisted that Keanu Reeves get a sensible haircut as would befit a hard-working cop. 20th Century Fox were horrified when they saw the buzzcut that he adopted for the film, threatening to postpone the film to allow his hair to grow back.
The scene in which Annie (Sandra Bullock) takes the chewing gum out of her mouth and pretends to put it on her seat in order to have an excuse to change seats and move away from the obnoxious Stephens was improvised by Bullock.
The watch Jack was wearing, the Casio G-Shock DW-5600C, had been discontinued when filming commenced. Due to the film's success, the watch was in popular demand, and the company started making them again.
There was an instance where a schoolboy saved the lives of a schoolbus full of kids, when the driver had a heart attack, by climbing on to the driver's lap, jumping on the brake pedal and pulling the bus to the side of the road. When asked later why he did it, he told them that he had seen "that bus movie". At half-time during an NFL game, there was a ceremony hailing the boy as a hero.
For the bus jump sequence, a ramp was built. The bus was started from about one mile back, and accelerated towards the ramp. When it hit the ramp, it had reached a speed of 61 miles per hour. The bus traveled 109 feet, and its front wheels reached an altitude of twenty feet from the ground, which was higher than anyone had anticipated. Because of this, the cameras were not placed correctly, and the top front part of the bus goes out of the frame when the bus reaches the maximum point of the jump.
The film literally ran out of money before it was completed. When the film was first previewed for an audience, the subway scenes were animated story boards. The audience loved them so much, the studio came up with the funds to shoot the scenes properly.
The script was pitched to Paramount Studios, which placed the movie on turnaround, and suggested to Graham Yost that his script, which called for the movie to end after everyone gets off the bus, had "too much bus" in it, implying audiences would not go for a movie, in which a bus is driving around for two hours. Yost then added the subway scenes, and the modified script was presented to 20th Century Fox, which agreed to film the movie.
For the bus jump sequence, the city of Los Angeles gave permission to shoot on I-105 during the last month of its construction. This required the filming crew to be constantly on the move, depending on the location of the workers. It also created continuity problems, because the appearance of the set kept changing, as the construction crews would erect or tear down structures.
A special bus was used for the bus jump scene. This bus was modified so that it could reach a speed of seventy miles per hour, and it was equipped with powerful shock absorbers. The driver's seat was moved back fifteen feet, so that if something went wrong, the driver wasn't ejected from the bus. The seat itself was a suspension mechanism between the ceiling and the bus floor to avoid the driver from suffering spinal compression on impact.
I-105 had recently been completed, but not opened at the time of production. The filmmakers were given all the time they needed to complete the freeway scenes, without the hassle of closing down an operating major freeway.
There is a picture of an ocean wave on the side of the bus, more noticeably when the bus is circling the airport. That photograph was taken by Jan de Bont, for a campaign that was done for the American oceans, "Heal the Bay".
20th Century Fox were not convinced, to begin with, that Keanu Reeves had enough star clout to front the film, and insisted on a big name actress to star alongside him. Jan de Bont refused. Fox relented to his casting of Sandra Bullock with Reeves only two weeks before shooting began.
The film was originally written with the desire that Jeff Bridges would play Jack, and Ellen DeGeneres would play Annie. DeGeneres was initially desired, because the role of Annie was going to be a comedic role opposite the serious role of Jack. DeGeneres denied being considered for the role in a 2015 Howard Stern interview.
Jan de Bont cast Keanu Reeves as Jack Traven after seeing him in Point Break (1991). He felt that the actor was "vulnerable on the screen. He's not threatening to men because he's not that bulky, and he looks great to women."
Before filming began on the freeway with the gap in it, all the lines and signage had to be put in and taken out on a regular basis before and during filming. Filming took places for around two and a half weeks.
Although it was not part of the original screenplay, Keanu Reeves and Jan de Bont both agreed that miming gum chewing was an ingenious way to foreshadow Jack Traven's "gut feelings," thus exposing his thought processes to the audience. This revelation occurred after Keanu casually ad libbed this into one of the scene takes.
There are three different ads on the bus, and they are as follows (with their slogans): The Great L.A. Zoo - "Good Vibrations"; Heal the Bay - "Leave your children something to remember you by"; and Santa Monica Bank - "Money Isn't Everything. (Yeah, Right.)"
The film was originally supposed to be released in August 1994 as 20th Century Fox had concerns that the film would underperform at the box-office, and they felt it would be a worthy action successor to True Lies (1994), which opened that July. However, the film performed very well during test screenings, and test audiences loved it so much, which prompted Fox to move the release date up to June, as their first movie of the summer season, and to provide adult action competition in comparison with the family friendly The Flintstones (1994), which opened two weeks earlier. In the end, Fox made the right decision, as the film grossed 121 million dollars in the U.S. and Canada, and 350 million dollars worldwide, against a budget of thirty million dollars.
The film was released one week before O.J. Simpson led Los Angeles police on a chase in his white Bronco after he was suspected of murder. After the Bronco chase, many audiences who saw the film in theaters, noticed how closely scenes from the film, resembled the real-life Bronco chase, including media coverage, and aerial shots of Los Angeles freeways.
The police helicopter used by the Captain (or Lieutenant) in the movie, N599DB, spent several years thereafter in operation as C-FCPS, Calgary, Alberta, Canada's police helicopter "HAWC 1". It was retired, and sold to a private citizen in late 2006.
A pre-stardom Halle Berry turned down the role of Annie, without regret, even though the movie became a huge hit. She said, "It would not have done for me what it did for Sandra Bullock. I would've just been the black bus driver."
The famous The Dukes of Hazzard (1979) sequence was the filmmakers' wry commentary on the uncompleted state of Interstate 105, which had become a running joke among Los Angeles motorists. It was finally (and quite coincidentally) completed in late 1993, shortly before the film's release, several years behind schedule.
The film was parodied in Father Ted: Speed 3 (1998), in which Father Ted Crilly sets out to save Father Dougal McGuire, when vengeful milkman and womanizer Pat Mustard, who has rigged the milk float that Dougal is driving, to explode if the milk float's speed drops below four miles per hour.
At one point, while noticing Annie's sweater, Jack says that the Arizona Wildcats have a good football team. Even though the University of Arizona had a good football team while the movie was being made, it is far better known as a basketball school, despite its rivalry with Arizona State University's football teams.
While filming Demolition Man (1993), Rob Schneider befriended Sandra Bullock. Upon hearing the premise of her follow-up project, Schneider incorrectly dismissed what he called "this bus movie" as something that wouldn't succeed at the box office.
Brief shots of the headsign of the bus display "33 Downtown via Freeway". The 33 is actually a local LA Metro (LACMTA) line between Santa Monica and Downtown Los Angeles via Venice Boulevard. The Santa Monica Blue Bus express line between Santa Monica and downtown is the 10, which operates via I-10.
The film was parodied in a Fat Sweaty Coppers sketch in the 1996 Christmas special of The Fast Show (1994), which in that sketch, John Thomson's character attempts to get on a double-decker bus that has been rigged to explode if the bus' speed drop below five miles per hour.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Jan de Bont came up with the idea for the opening elevator sequence while working as a Cinematographer on Die Hard (1988). While riding in an elevator in the building used as the skyscraper in that film, the elevator got stuck on the fortieth floor, and de Bont had to climb out the escape hatch and jump onto another elevator to get out.
The plane destroyed by the exploding bus has the logo "Pacific Courier Freight" on its side. This same name is on the truck used by the terrorists in Die Hard (1988) - an in-joke by Production Designer Jackson De Govia.
Jack's sidekick, Harry, was originally to be played by Ed Harris, and in this version was going to be revealed as the mad bomber. However, when Ed Harris opted out, and Jeff Daniels signed on, the producers felt that the audience would not accept the sudden twist in character, so Harry was kept as a good guy throughout, and the mad bomber written as a separate character. The idea of the hero's friend and sidekick being the villain, was later used in Broken Arrow (1996), also written by Graham Yost.
A deleted scene sees Jack shooting Howard Payne in the neck, just after he'd shot his partner in the leg at the beginning of the film. Later in the film, you can see the oval scar on Payne's neck caused by the shooting.
According to Joss Whedon, the character of Stephens (Alan Ruck) was originally written as an abrasive lawyer, who gets his comeuppance in an unexpected death scene. Whedon re-wrote him as the sympathetic, dull-witted tourist of the final version, but kept the death scene, intending to give it more emotional impact. His character changes were kept, but the death was written out.
The Los Angeles airport would not allow any explosions to take place to avoid frightening travelers. The explosion scene that takes place when the bus collides with the airplane was filmed in Mojave, California.
The scene where the bus smashes into an empty Boeing 707 being towed across the runway, was actually filmed at the Mojave Airport. According to the DVD Commentary, Jan De Bont says it was "out in the desert, on an old runway".
There was originally a scene called "Officer Baker's failed rescue" in which a bomb squad officer called Baker was going to be lowered onto the bus from a helicopter only to have to pull up when a bridge gets in the way, where he meets an unfortunate end. This scene storyboard can be found on the Special Edition DVD, complete with optional commentary by Jan de Bont.
At least twelve different busses were used during the shooting of the movie: - two for exterior shots - two that were blown up - two for interior shots - two for action sequences and "hitting things" - one for the jump sequence - one modified, so that it could ride on two wheels during the sharp right turn sequence - one slightly raised, so that a man in a mechanic car could fit underneath. It was for the sequence in which Jack Traven tries to deactivate the bomb. - one with an extended platform in front, so that a filming crew could shoot the driver from the front. The filming crew referred to this bus as the "pope-mobile".
The subway scenes were shot aboard the actual Los Angeles' Metro Red Line. They often used the same short stretch of track over and over, but most of the time, that subway tunnel you see is real. The only subway scenes that were faked in the studio, were the scenes with Keanu Reeves and Dennis Hopper fighting on top of the train, and the last final seconds before the crash.